Attractions, Hikes and Activities in the Nelson Lakes National Park
Among the glacier-carved valleys formed during the Ice Age, 16 picture-perfect lakes give the name of the Nelson Lakes National Park. While those like Lake Rotoiti are an easy pitstop, determined hikers will not be disappointed by one of the multi-day excursions to the world’s clearest lake, Blue Lake. The mountains, lakes and forests also offer opportunities for kayaking, mountain biking and skiing. Discover all of the above and more in this list of the best things to do in the Nelson Lakes National Park.
The closest towns to the Nelson Lakes National Park are St Arnaud and Murchison.
1. Get That Obligatory Photo of the Lake Rotoiti Jetty
If you only have time to do one quick thing in the Nelson Lakes National Park, then make it a stop at the Lake Rotoiti jetty. Beyond the jetty are stunning vistas of Lake Rotoiti engulfed by the mountains beyond. If the main jetty is too crowded, try the jetty that is a short walk to the left when facing the lake.
Location: Kerr Bay, accessed either from Lake Road or Kerr Bay Road, St Arnaud.
2. Enjoy a Walk Around Lake Rotoiti
Another one of the best things to do in the Nelson Lakes National Park is to stick around awhile at Lake Rotoiti for one of the picturesque walks around the lake. From the Lake Rotoiti jetty, there’s the 15-minute Bellbird Walk to the 1-hour return Brunner Peninsula Nature Walk. For something a little more worthwhile, do the 1h30min-return Black Hill Walk from West Bay or make a day of it by doing the Mt Robert Circuit.
Location: Walks from the Lake Rotoiti jetty start from Kerr Bay, accessed either from Lake Road or Kerr Bay Road. Other walks mentioned begin along Mount Robert Road, approximately 3km (1.9 miles) from St Arnaud.
3. Visit the Nelson Lakes’ Less-Visited Lake, Lake Rotoroa
Similar in aesthetics but much more serene, Lake Rotoroa is the lake to go to when looking to get off the beaten track. The lake has its own jetty with a picnic table, a display of an archaeological Maori canoe, a campground and few short walks ranging from 25 minutes to three hours.
Location: Gowan Valley Road, approximately 42km (26 miles) from St Arnaud.
4. Ride the Mountain Bike Trails of Teetotal
If you’re travelling New Zealand with a mountain bike, then you need to stop at the Teetotal Recreation Area! You’ll find a myriad of biking trails with easy trails to the east of the area to more intermediate trails toward the west.
Location: Signposted off State Highway 63, approximately 1.5km (0.9 miles) west of St Arnaud.
5. Go on an Adventure on a Canyoning Tour
Immerse yourself in the hidden depths of the Nelson Lakes National Park on an exciting canyoning tour. Canyoning Aotearoa offers three epic locations to abseil, zipline, climb and scramble your way through dramatic canyons awash in waterfalls, moss-engulfed boulders and chasms. Note that tours are available between the beginning of October to the end of April. For more canyoning trips around the country, see the 7 Best Places for Canyoning in New Zealand.
Location: Tours depart from St Arnaud.
6. Hike or Take a Helicopter to the Blue Lake
Meaning “lake of peaceful waters” in te reo Maori, Lake Rotomairewhenua or more commonly “Blue Lake” holds the title of being the clearest lake in the world. There are two ways to reach this backcountry gem, either by hiking or chartering a helicopter with Murchison Heli Tours or Helicopters Nelson. The hiking option can be done either as a side trip on the four to seven-day Travers-Sabine Circuit or the eight to 10-day Lewis Pass – Waiau Pass – Blue Lake Route.
Location: Travers-Sabine Circuit – Kerr Bay, St Arnaud. Lewis Pass – Waiau Pass – Blue Lake Route – State Highway 7, approximately 104km (65 miles) from Murchison. Murchison Heli Tours – Murchison. Helicopter Nelson, Nelson Airport.
7. Challenge Yourself to a Multi-Day Hike
In true New Zealand national park spirit, the Nelson Lakes National Park offers plenty of multi-day hikes to help you connect with nature. While we’ve already touched on the seven-day Travers-Sabine Circuit and the eight to 10-day Lewis Pass – Waiau Pass – Blue Lake Route, a shorter but worthwhile trek in the Angelus Hut Track. The track takes three to four days, leading hikers to a hut high in the mountains on the shores of Lake Angelus. The walk is best attempted from November to April.
Location: Angeles Hut via the Pinchgut Track – Mt Robert car park at the end of Mount Robert Road, approximately 7km (4.3 miles) from St Arnaud.
8. Discover Whisky Falls
Who doesn’t like a good waterfall? For your waterfall fix in the Nelson Lakes National Park, take the Lakeside Track along the shores of Lake Rotoiti. The three hours-return walk takes you through lush forest and over shallow streams to the main event, the 40m (131ft) Whisky Falls.
Location: Along Mount Robert Road, approximately 5km (3.1 miles) from St Arnaud.
9. Hit the Rainbow Ski Area
Head to the slopes of the St Arnaud Range in winter to ski at Rainbow. The small commercial field is complete with groomers, snowmaking, ski school and rentals. Enjoy skiing or snowboarding on the wide intermediate runs accessible via a mix of T-bars and tows. See more ski fields on the South Island in the Top 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand.
Location: Rainbow Road, approximately 34km (21 miles) northwest of St Arnaud.
10. Go for a Paddle on the Lake
Finally, another one of the things to do in the Nelson Lakes National Park is kayaking or canoeing on Lake Rotoiti. Enjoy a peaceful paddle on the lake’s glassy waters while exploring every nook and cranny. Kayaks and Canadian canoes can be hired from Lake Rotoiti Water Taxis, located either on the lakefront between October and April or book ahead in the off-season.
Location: Western car park on Kerr Bay Road, St Arnaud.